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Farm To Table via USPS

September 25, 2012
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How food distribution works today with endless middle men, warehouses, distribution and packaging companies, wholesalers and grocers is not the way things have always worked. Our friends recently shared some surprising history about a food by mail system that could point to possibilities for revitalization of the postal service and the food system today! It all began in 1896 when the Rural Free Delivery Program was started and in 1913 it was connected to the postal service. The program thrived throughout World War 1 but fell victim to competition from the private sector as time moved on. Additionally, the construction of highways changed the way transportation of people and goods occurred throughout the country. As a policy experiment it was innovative, risky and bold. We need to see more of that if anything about how the food supply and distribution chain works. For information about workers who are organizing across the “food chain” check out the important work of Food Chain Workers.

[Thanks to Lisa Junkin and Heather Radke for sharing these links.]

Gaza Kitchen Book

August 11, 2012
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An old friend living in Madrid, Maggie Schmidt, and her collaborator Laila El-Haddad have just released their book “The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey” for pre-order.

Here is what their publisher says about the project:

The Gaza Kitchen is a richly illustrated cookbook that explores the distinctive cuisine and food heritage of the area known prior to 1948 as the Gaza District—and that of the many refugees from elsewhere in Palestine who came to Gaza in 1948 and have been forced to stay there ever since. In summer 2010, authors Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt traveled the length and breadth of the Gaza Strip to collect the recipes presented in the book. They were also able to build on the extensive knowledge that Laila, herself a Palestinian from Gaza, had gained from family and friends throughout the years.

The 130 recipes presented in this book have all been thoroughly kitchen-tested. Amounts are presented using U.S.-style measures, and the authors suggest alternative ingredients and recipe adaptations for cooks working in the United States or other countries where some of the ingredients may not be easy to find. Numerous illustrations help readers understand how to perform the listed techniques—and what the finished product should look like!

But The Gaza Kitchenis not only a cookbook. A lot of other things happen in the kitchen as well as cooking: conversations, the re-telling of family histories, and the daily drama of surviving and creating spaces for pleasure in an embattled place. In this book, women and men from throughout Gaza tell their stories as they relate to cooking, farming, and the food economy: personal stories, family stories, and descriptions of the broader social and economic system in which they live.

When Laila and Maggie launched this project in 2009, they wrote:

Why do we want to talk about food and cooking?

Because food is the essence of the everyday.  Beyond all the discourses, the positions and the polemics, there is the kitchen.  And even in Gaza, that most tortured little strip of land, hundreds of thousands of women every day find ways to sustain their families and friends in body and spirit.  They make the kitchen a stronghold against despair, and there craft necessity into pleasure and dignity.

Gaza has a rich food tradition and a unique cuisine combining Levantine and Egyptian elements.  The history of its population can be traced through its recipes, which reflect the influence of exile from all over Palestine as well as a changing society and customs. A cookbook which brings together these recipes serves as testimony to this heritage and history.

What is more, today’s kitchens can tell us much about the difficult and paradoxical realities of Gaza after 3 years of unrelenting siege: which products are available and where they are coming from (tunnels, local agriculture, humanitarian relief), how cooks manage with extreme shortages of gas and electricity, how families reorganize to compensate for destroyed homes and near-universal joblessness.  To spend a day with a Gazan woman doing the shopping and cooking is to understand the Palestinian reality from an entirely different – more material, more intimate – perspective.  It is to appreciate the strength and endurance which allows these women every day to confront a hopeless situation and to create within it small spaces of grace, beauty and generosity.

Just World Books is honored to have been able to work with Maggie and Laila in the preparation of this unique contribution to the study of the world’s food heritage.

From Coimbra to Lisbon, Maputo, Rome, Hanoi, Dondo, & Rio

July 23, 2012
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Every so often I get up the guts to attend, and even present at, an academic conference. I say this takes guts because to put yourself through multiple days of people reading papers and showing power points can be a unique form of contemporary masochism. Still, it is one of the few places where you can quickly hear a bunch of people from a bunch of places, quickly summarize their work and research. In the case of urban planning conferences, you can literally take a trip around the world in an hour and a half. 

Last week I attended Cities Are Us: Rethinking Urban Inclusion organized by the CES in Coimbra, Portugal. There I attended a panel discussion about “Greening the City” with a collection of academics from all over the place. The presentations dealt a lot with dichotomies present in urban food production – such as informal vs formal. The talks pointed out how many diverse practices can fall under something we are now calling “urban farming” and they have as much in common as they do not – ranging from activist projects of young people and the unemployed, to elderly people to immigrants bringing their diasporic traditions to new home countries, and post-colonial urbanization of formerly rural people. 

Portugal was a great place to have this discussion, because it is an agriculturally rich country where people have maintained a strong connection to the land. Additionally, the immigrant population from former colonies have really maintained their agricultural traditions. For your view reading pleasure and for me to remember what I heard, here is a summary of some of the folks and places I was introduced to in this panel:

Lisbon – Juliana Torquato Luiz, from the CES in Coimbra, uses a social-science lens to research gardens in Lisbon. In looking at the international discourse around farming, she has observed that there is a generalized rhetoric and lens that focuses only on “best practices” but leaves out critique and narratives about conflict. thus has decided to have a very local focus. Lisbon has innovated a great deal around “green public policy” through their “Piano Verde” plan. This plan, like most plans, involved creating a framework for what is and is not included in the city’s official garden map. Her research includes groups that have tried to respond to some of these challenges of what is/isn’t on the green map: the RAU (Portugese Network for Urban Agriculture),  AVAAL Allotment Garden Project and the Assemblia Movel em Hortas Urbanas (Mobile Assembly in Urban Gardens) who have tried to use the platform of urban ag to organize neighborhood groups focused on larger urban issues.

Maputo – Leonardo Veronez de Sousa, from Coimbra, focuses his research on the Portugese “Colonial City” of Maputo. Following the civil war, which was stronger in the countryside, people’s relationship to land was changed. He believes that the peri-urban agriculture here can be a model for land occupation in other Western countries. The agriculture is organized through associations, 6 of which he has visited for his research. This has emerged as a real economic development tool, with lots of food being consumed domestically as well as exported to South Africa.

RomeGiovanni Attili (shared examples of activist-initiated urban gardens that exist in parallel to the RomaAgra zone that lies outside of the city limits. Some of the examples included: In 1992 the Gartabella garden was instigated when the “Piano Gerace”, a formerly private plot of land, was pushed into public access by a longterm political campaign by the neighborhood that was completed in 1999. Eutorto is an urban garden oriented around supporting a collective of “former workers” supporting themselves in the face of long-term unemployment. Finally, we heard about Sculo Vive, an organization of people with disabilities, that instigated their own garden. His warning with researching informal gardens and activism is that the informal can sometimes lead to a celebration of informal in-and-of-itself through romantic description and urban populist ideology (they do not question the status quo). He claims that “city from below” type frameworks sometimes obscure the differences between various practices.

Hanoi – Le To Luong, a student in Germany, presented on park planning in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam has, like most countries, rapidly urbanized, with a huge spike from 1996 onward from 20% of the population to 50% of the total population in 2010. This has resulted in the loss of Urban Green Areas (UGA). Her research focuses on the “lifestyle” changes that have accompanied this shift. She looks back to 1848 when there was an emperor, and there were no “public parks” (they were gated), then after French colonization they introduced some French-style parks that were not immediately warmed to, though now they are so overused those same parks have become in short supply. With the rise in elderly population, she expects these future retirees will only increase that demand.

Dondo – Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony and thus appropriate as a focal point for Céline Veríssimo, a researcher from Portugal working in the UK.  As the country has shifted towards a neoliberal (deregulation and privatization), the informal settlements have grown immensely. She uses a “political ecology” lens to look at the residents approach to food production, increasing in response to growing food insecurity. In order to survive, formerly rural peasants/residents with an “innate connection to nature” have attempted to recreate the countryside food production, shade trees and fruit trees in the city – on the edges of the traditional core “concrete city” (most of the informal settlements are not built from cement, so it has a quite different form of organization and aesthetics. She estimates that 89% of food production in the city is informal, and most of that is happening in people’s commonly held yard space. The so-called “slums” have an incredibly pleasant appearance that is very green, shaded, and encourages an active social life much more intensely than in the core city. Her research has concludes that these “new modes of production are combined with ancient knowledge based on a socially and ecologically regenerative model of society.” She thinks these practices can “increase urban resilience” in the face of austerity and ecological crisis but in order to expand it will require “institutional, scientific and professional support for a democratic and ecological urban paradigm shift.”

Rio de Janerio and Lisbon – Marianna Monte does a comparative analysis of public gardens and markets in these two historically linked cities. She argues for social criteria to be used in who gets permits to do urban gardening in a case study in Lisbon – but now that is not the case, it is essentially first come and first serve. The same applies to legal street vendors in Rio, which have experienced since the 1990s a formalization of the popular market area. This is particularly interesting at this time because Rio is hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics just two years after that. So their land-use policies  need to be watched carefully.

It is hard to go in very deep to any of the places in a 15minute presentation, and much harder in my attempt at summary. Still, I hope you enjoy the whirlwind tour and follow-up with some of these promising young researchers.  As they say, Obrigado! – Daniel Tucker

[Acknowledgements: Thanks to the conference organizers, the chair of this panel Stefania Barca, and University of Illinois at Chicago for supporting my travel.]

Marketing Together Now

May 24, 2012

Farmers wear many hats.  Not just wide-brimmed straw hats, baseball caps and wool beanies for the winter – many professional hats.

Yes. It’s very easy to think of your farmer as someone who just grows the seasonal delights you tote home in a CSA box or your farmers’ market basket. But growing food is only the tip of the iceberg lettuce when it comes to the laundry list of skills that one needs to run a small farm. A small farm is, after all, a small business and growing food is just a piece of the pie. The smiling, tan farmer who hands you your bag of spinach or dozen eggs does so much more than just grow food. She or he also serves as chief marking officer, along with a laundry list of other non-production oriented responsibilities.

Many folks are drawn to the farming life to work close to the land and nourish their community with delicious food. Undoubtedly, for some there is something so rewarding about laboring outside, toiling daily to the point of exhaustion and cultivating a product with your own hands (or hoe or tractor). However, getting your products ‘to market’, and actually selling it, is just as important as growing and raising the delicious edibles themselves. And for producers selling directly to their customers, sometimes it can feel like a marketing degree is required to actually sell anything. Just consider the branding, packaging, website, market signage, advertising, social media, CSA member signup, travel to the market and newsletter writing stands behind the food you buy.  Ultimately though, the business end of the enterprise is only sustainable when the product actually finds a paying home. Sometimes growing food can be the easy part in comparison, and marketing activities take a big bite out of the time growers would like to spend in the fields (or sleeping at night), not to mention a chunk of the budget too.

Gratefully, there is a groundswell of support from local and national organizations, individuals and institutions all who want to provide some sort of market opportunity, advertising or educational benefit to support small, local farms. As a consumer, it’s easy to think about websites like Sustainable Table, publications including Edible Communities (be sure to look up the nearest to you) or online databases such as Local Harvest as an easy way to find a local farm or learn about the benefits of sustainable agriculture. From the grower’s perspective, these are advertising outlets and campaigns that help boost a market demand for their products. And thank goodness, resources now include everything from CSA coalitions, searchable databases of local farms, food hubs, websites promoting the environmental and health benefits of eating local and many more. You may call it Marketing Together Now, but it’s just another way people who believe in local agriculture join forces to increase opportunities for farmers and consumers.

Here’s just one example. It’s 2012, and the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept is becoming more and more common, almost mainstream. In this model, customers ‘join’ a farm, pay the farmer at the beginning of the growing season and then receive regular ‘shares’ of the farm produce regularly throughout the season. Farmers receive much needed cash flow at the beginning of the growing season, CSA members share in the risks of farming and food can be harvested with the knowledge of exactly where it is going.

In the early 1990s, just a handful of US farms operated as CSA farms, and the concept was unfamiliar to consumers. In the beginning, farmers and local food advocates collaborated to educate the community about this new model, planting the seeds for future success. By 1999, these community efforts to enthuse potential customers blossomed, with an estimated 1000 CSAs taking root across the country. And the groups organizing around CSAs grew too. Many became official organizations with a mission to promote CSAs and provide a community for producers too. Their work is instrumental in the rapid growth of community supported agriculture, with 4,571 CSAs listed on Local Harvest at the beginning of 2012.

MACSAC is a perfect example, but you can see them in Portland (PACSAC), Kansas City, New York City and Dubuque. Now they are non-profits, farmer lead, or have a small staff – but are close to the farmers.

A CSA Coalition may play many roles. Most are membership groups, loosely or formally organized, with the mission to promote CSA farms and provide community for farmers. Many promote the concept of CSAs and educate about their benefits. Some of these organizations go further, hosting annual CSA sign-up events, a chance for people to meet their farmers and sign up for a share in person. Some raise funds to subsidize shares for those who can not purchase a CSA at full price. Others organize classes on cooking or food preservation. The pinnacle of positive work is by the Fairshare CSA Coalition of Wisconsin. They partnered with local health insurance companies, encouraging them to offer rebates to those who join CSAs.

The work of a CSA Coalition is not just for the consumers, many provide a way and a place for farmers to gather, unite, have fun and learn through workshops, listserves or events. This is the nature of good food, built on a strong foundation built by growers and eaters alike – while providing much needed ‘professional services’ to make farms more visible too!

Is there a CSA Coalition or Network in your area?
Dubuque CSA Coalition
FairShare CSA Coalition

Kansas City CSA Coalition
Just Food CSA Network

Hazon CSA Network

Portland CSA Network

Will You Farm With Me?

March 17, 2012

On March 13 I posted the first of three interviews with farming couples who agreed to openly share the stories of their agricultural adventures, how they came to a common vision, the unforeseen of farming together and advice for partners considering starting a farm. Today’s interview, third in the series, is with Red Truck Farm in Ridgefield, Washington.

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Red Truck Farm, LLC
Amber Baker and Jason Karnezis
Ridgefield, Washington
www.redtruckfarm.wordpress.com

Describe your farm and farming philosophy
Red Truck Farm is a 1 and 1/2–acre specialty vegetable farm located in Ridgefield, Washington, just 15 miles North of Portland. We follow organic practices and are committed to growing high quality produce for our community. Our land totals just over 7 acres with a little less than half in forest and forested floodplain, backing up to Gee Creek. The rest of the property has our home, one barn, one greenhouse, and about 3.5 acres of arable land. We began the farm in 2006 after a number of years of growing on a smaller scale, and working and learning from other farmers in the area. We started out together as apprentices at Sauvie Island Organics where we began with a small bed of experimental varieties that we were excited to try out. We now grow produce for the New Seasons Market, and other local restaurants and cafés.

How long have you been farming together?
Seven years

What brought you to a shared farming experience?
We met during our apprenticeship on an organic farm in Portland.

What are each of your responsibilities on the farm and how do you decide who’s in charge of what?
The best advice we’ve been given is to focus on those things that we each do well and don’t try to do what comes natural to the other person. If there are still gaps remaining, focus on them together to share the burden of what doesn’t come naturally. Nothing is exclusively one person’s or the other. Jason works part-time during the peak of the season and the off-farm job allows him to go down seasonally. He carries the majority of the harvesting, packing, cultivating, and marketing. Amber works full-time year ’round and contributes to packing out, invoicing, record-keeping, taxes, and harvesting. More equally shared are farm projects (greenhouse building, high-tunnels, fence building, greenhouse planting, annual farm planning and seed ordering). We are continually refining what products work well for our current schedule and what might allow for one of us to be full time on the farm permanently. This involves looking at our sales records, deciding on which market avenues to pursue, and taking inventory of what we really enjoy growing and selling.

What outcomes of farming together are most rewarding?
Shared success, be it with new customers, a completed project, or just deciding when to stop for the day each has its own rewards. It is a lifestyle, and a commitment to doing it exclusively your way. You choose how your systems and approaches fit your standard of living and can make a very clear connection as to how you choose to farm to influence how you live your life.

Most challenging?
Deciding on the right systems and approaches in an ever-changing world, most of which is completely out of your control, and committing to how you want to live your life. 

Least expected?
Owning our own land sooner than we thought. Given how we’ve structured our life, it made sense to buy sooner than later, but it’s still sinking in.

Any advice for others choosing to farm with their mate?
Make your relationship as much of a priority and goal for success, as much as you make the success of your farm a goal. Dedicate time away from the farm in the crazy season to allow yourself a break and gather perspective. Dedicate that same amount, at a minimum, in the not so crazy time of year to rejuvenate. Don’t be afraid to discuss the farm whenever it’s on your mind, just don’t get mad when it’s not on your partners mind.

Will You Farm With Me? Dancing Roots Farm

March 15, 2012

On March 13 I posted the first of three interviews with farming couples who agreed to openly share the stories of their agricultural adventures, how they came to a common vision, the unforeseen of farming together and advice for partners considering starting a farm. Today’s interview, second in the series, is with Dancing Roots Farm in Troudale, Oregon.

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Dancing Roots Farm
Shari Sirkin & Bryan Dickerson
Troutdale, Oregon
http://www.dancingrootsfarm.com

Describe your farm and farming philosophy
Our farm is on 10 beautiful acres above the Sandy River, about 18 miles east of Portland. To the locals, this area is known as Springdale. In addition to our fields, we have a few acres of woods, tons of blackberries and lots of refuge for songbirds and wildlife.

We bought the farm in the fall of 2002 and spent most of 2003 fixing up the old farmhouse. The fields sat fallow for over 30 years, and our plans call for creating an ecologically sound and productive working farm. Our vision includes orchards and grapes, year round produce, educational programs, on-farm composting, and farm animals such as sheep, ducks, and bees! We use only ecologically sound practices, such as crop rotations, natural amendments, cover crops, drip irrigation, and provide ample habitat for beneficial insects, bugs and birds; we use no pesticides or herbicides or synthetic fertilizer.

How long have you been farming together?
We bought our farm together in 2002, and have been farming together since.

What brought you to a shared farming experience?
Shari started farming in 1997 on rented land around Portland, and with a variety of farm co-partners. Bryan was, and still is, a professional musician and music teacher. He has always been supportive, but farming was “Shari’s thing” in his eyes. We lived in our tiny house in Portland, and Shari commuted to the farm. After a few years, Bryan got more and more into it. We had a CSA pick-up at our house, and he got very engaged through that process. When we decided we wanted a farm, animals, fruit trees – things we couldn’t do on rented land or our lot in Portland. We agreed, and we started looking for a farm. We wanted to be close enough so Bryan could continue as a working musician. Since moving to the farm, he has been my farm partner. Having him, he’s my farm partner for sure. We have meetings. We figure things out together.

What are each of your responsibilities on the farm and how do you decide who’s in charge of what?
We have really defined roles. Shari does all the marketing, paperwork, accounting, everything legal or insurance, all the office stuff, for the farm. She also does the crop plan, selects varieties, the seed order. She’s the harvest manager, what’s grown when, where and how much. Bryan is the infrastructure guy. He deserves a spandex Superman costume with big “I” for Infrastructure Man. He is totally in charge of remodeling the farm house. He built all the outbuilding, irrigation, propagation house, green house and re-arranged the road. Anything with infrastructure is for him. Plus, he does almost all of the tractor work and implement maintenance. He designed our own transplanter and spreader. He’s still learning names of vegetable varieties, that’s all new to him. What we share are the staff issues. We always interview together. We each talk to the crew.

Our struggle is not making, or having, the time for US to have meetings to be on top of what each other is doing.

What outcomes of farming together are most rewarding?
We both feel so blessed, really lucky to be doing work that we love and that we are passionate about and that’s meaningful to us. That we get to do together. We get to go to farming conferences together and feed off each others’ excitement and enthusiasm. We’ve been together 21 years. For the first part, before we were farming together, we had our own worlds, with mutual appreciation and support. But now, getting to do it all as partners, that makes us feel really blessed.

Most challenging?
When we have our struggles, they are not with roles, but time constraints. Shari is living in total day-to-day, triage, one step below crisis management. It’s the peak-season of invoices, harvest, drop-offs and detail management. Bryan is not in triage. Shari is in the moment, and Bryan, because of his role, he is in the future three, four, five weeks out. He wants to know what beds to spade up so they can rest, what can be weeded. That causes tension. That’s an area of struggle. But mostly, it’s not a struggle.

Also, because we farm and Bryan is still a full time musician and teacher, we don’t get much time off together. We both can’t really leave, together. That makes it harder to do things like take vacations, and we don’t even have animals!

Least expected?
This is what comes to mind first. We’re lying in bed at 10:30 at night, and we’re talking about tractor implements. Irrigation plan. Raises. Farming plans. I never thought that would happen.

Any advice for others choosing to farm with their mate?
Advice? Take Sunday off and make it your family day. We should be having at least a monthly date to go out, just the two of us. Try to make sure to do non-farm stuff together. But, that’s the one level. The other advice is if you are getting into it, just be sure that you both have the same level of passion for it. Neither of us do this work for ourselves, we do it because we feel really called to do it. We feel committed to do it. We feel like we’re making a difference in the world. I just can’t see it working if one person was doing it to please the other person. You can’t do this kind of work for someone else, you have to do it because you care.

Will You Farm with Me?

March 13, 2012

Farming is a commitment—a vow to steward the land, to care for animals and crops, and to feed the community. Farming couples share this vision. They work with the added layer of managing a special personal relationship on top of a business.

A passion for growing food, and finding someone with whom to cultivate the land, makes the farming experience sweeter, stronger and more fulfilling for many. That said, there are unique challenges and dynamics inherent in living, farming and working under the same barn roof day in and day out.

Over the next week I will be posting a short Q&A with three different farm couples who have agreed to openly share the stories of their agricultural adventures, how they came to a common vision, the unforeseen of farming together and advice for partners considering starting a farm. The first profile is from Puzzle Peace Farm in Bostic, North Carolina.

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Puzzle Peace Farm
Thomas Carson & Lindy Abrams
Bostic, North Carolina
www.puzzlepeacefarm.blogspot.com

Describe your farm and farming philosophy
We are blessed to have family land available to us, bordering beautiful Puzzle Creek, hence our name. The landscape is diverse, ranging from fertile bottom-land to sloped and terraced upland. Each terrain presents its unique advantages and challenges, both of which we learn more about each year.

Our main focus is on diversified produce production… from asparagus to zucchini and many in between.  Laying hens are a part of this as they are rotated through our fields leaving their fertile manure. Their delicious eggs are an added bonus. We have dairy goats for ourselves and have raised some goats and hogs for meat to sell in the past, and possibly again in the future. For now though, the meat products are on hold so we can better hone our vegetable growing skills.

We are committed to sustainable growing methods. Though we are not certified organic, we do abide by the standards. In some respects our personal standards go above and beyond those of organic certification. For example, we don’t use plastic weed control because it is disposable from year to year, petroleum-based (or corn-based, which is about the same in the end), and doesn’t contribute to soil health. We use natural mulches instead.

How long have you been farming together?
This is our second year farming together.

What brought you to a shared farming experience?
We both had been farming independently for a couple of years and met at a farmers potluck. We showed each other our farms and fell in love shortly thereafter.

What are each of your responsibilities on the farm and how do you decide who’s in charge of what?
Tough question. We started with equal say in all matters and soon realized how different our methodologies were. Basically we each have our favorite vegetables and on those crops we each have the final say. As for other general decisions and chores, there is no decisive method in stone. We just get things done from day to day, usually based on our own strengths or weakness.

Thomas is a green-blood, and has been working on farm equipment since he was very young so most welding and tractor work falls to him. Lindy values the stability of the routine and does chores associated with the hens, and the greenhouse, handling most of the transplant production.

What outcomes of farming together are most rewarding?
We both get to share in the accomplishments. Our good days are good for both of us, making it a great day. And who better to share this amazing food with? We eat like royalty.

Most challenging?
It’s impossible to separate our farm life from our home life. In comparison with the last question, when there is a disagreement in the field or about something to purchase, or how to prioritize something… it is hard to put it all aside when you walk in the house for lunch. The farm is your life, so you have to love it for it to work.

Least expected?
The evolution. Though I expected change in our mindsets it is impossible to know what change will come. As a minor example, I was determined to expand into meat goats. With some frustrating experience and some debate and persuasion from my partner, it is likely that won’t happen. Which is fine by me. But on my own I’d probably be out there right now chasing goats out of the chard patch.

Any advice for others choosing to farm with their mate?
Thomas: Farm Internships. Do it as a couple if possible. Though it won’t prepare you for everything by any means it will give you a feel for the life.

Save as much money as you can and make sure you are both on the same plane of frugality going in to the venture. Cash flow will be stressful on your own, much more so when one of you think you need this particular implement to continue and the other thinks you should expand into rabbit production instead. Learn to improvise with what you have and be willing to compromise greatly.

Lindy: Listen first, then talk.

Occupy Our Food Supply – Today!

February 27, 2012
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Occupy Our Food Supply is bringing together the Occupy, sustainable farming, food justice, buy local, slow food, and environmental movements for a global day of action on February 27, 2012. Inspired by the theme of CREATE/RESIST, thousands will come together to creatively confront corporate control of our food supply and take action to build healthy, accessible food systems for all.

Industrial agribusiness corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, ADM and Dupont have gained runaway control of our food systems and to take them back, we’ll need all the collective power we can manifest around the world. There are few things more personal than the food we put into our bodies every day. Let’s ensure that we can stand by the food we eat from farm to fork.

Read more at Occupy Our Food Supply and Find An Action Near You!

Edible Infrastructures

February 17, 2012
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What makes Edible Infrastructures unique is that they are taking on the challenge of creating systems that can respond to the crisis in the food system. Here is a bit about their proposal in their own words:

We propose a systems based model for urban growth which considers food as an integral part of the energy infrastructure. In contrast to the current urban model where food is an input and waste is an output, ours is an integrated approach considering the urban region as an ecological system with the potential for a closed loop of energy, nutrient and waste cycles. There is a long history of agriculture benefitting from the waste of the pre-industrialized city and while much research has begun into modern techniques our primary focus is on the spatial organization of such a system.

To test out their ideas they developed a case study for the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City. Check out the link and an image from the proposal:

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Farm Bill

February 14, 2012

It’s Farm Bill time again. Every five years or so, this giant piece of legislation is renewed to create much of the food, nutrition and agriculture policy and funding in the United States. Now is the unpredictable and lively time when lawmakers, lobbyists, activists, farmers and citizens attempt to cultivate common ground on this omnibus bill (meaning it covers a variety of diverse topics) and steer the course of what we grow and eat as a nation. So if you support a local food system, love your farmers, grow food or care about the environment; this is a good time to make your voice heard in the debate.

The most recent Farm Bill, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, remains in effect until the end of 2012. When passed, the 2008 Farm Bill included about $284 billion dollars of mandatory funding for food and agriculture related programs, along with a significant chunk of discretionary funding too. This giant piece of policy is divided into titles, each title highlighting a different focus area. For example, the existing Farm Bill including everything from Energy to Nutrition to Commodities to Conservation to Forestry titles.

Many folks perceive the farm bill to focus on topics like agricultural subsidies for commodity producers. However, subsidy and commodity programs only account for 15% of Farm Bill funding, followed by 9% for conservation programs and 8% for crop insurance. There’s a push to rename it the Food and Farm Bill, and for good reason. More than half of Farm Bill spending, about 67% of mandatory funds, are directed to USDA food and nutrition programs – namely the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the Food Stamp Program. That’s a pretty high priority placed on providing supplemental food dollars for those who need it. If you do the math, about 1% of Farm Bill funding falls into a category other than the ones listed above, programs that are incredibly important to small, new or diversified farms across the country like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Programs, Value-Added Producer Grants and the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program. These smaller programs place priority on supporting producers who grow or process the food we are more likely to eat fresh and lightly processed, like fruits and vegetables.

This is a good time to engage in Farm Bill advocacy (or agvocacy as some folks like to call it), and voice your opinions about what you would like to see in the upcoming Farm Bill. The good news is, you don’t have to start from scratch. Two bills incorporating support for local food systems have already been introduced in Congress. Although these pieces of proposed legislation will never become the Farm Bill, the hope is that they will become incorporated into the Farm Bill as it develops. Keep your eyes peeled for the following two bills, and encourage your legislators to support them.

  • Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act: Introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) in November of 2011. With the support of 35 original co-sponsors, this proposed legislation promotes producer and consumer aspects of producing and accessing local food, including strengthening the food supply chain.
  • The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011: Introduced by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN-1) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) along with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) in the Senate, this bill aims to support opportunities for new and beginning farmers and food entrepreneurs. This legislation addressed the barriers new farmers face, including access to land, markets and credit.

It can take over a year for the fine folks in Washington to agree on the contents of this behemoth piece of legislation. The process also leads to unexpected alliances between rural and urban representatives who join forces to gain traction for both the production (rural) and consumer (primarily urban) aspects of the Farm Bill. It’s always hard to predict what will happen, but there’s room for all of us to have our say. You can keep up to date and learn more about Farm Bill agvocacy with a focus on sustainability through organizations like:

We’ll also keep you updated on the progress of the Farm Bill, along with the perspectives of farmers who are working to improve our food system, so keep posted. And don’t forget to start to conversation with your legislators so you can make your Farm Bill voice heard too.

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